Apple Angst

This year my Yellow Transparent apple tree produced a bumper crop, despite (or maybe because of) a cool, relatively wet spring and cool summer.

A basket of Yellow Transparents

Yellow Transparents at their best are good apples — crisp and juicy with a hint of tartness.  Some say that a sprinkle of salt renders them especially delicious. However, they do not hold their peak for very long, rapidly becoming mushy and mealy.  At that point they are good only for applesauce or pies, or the compost heap. The worst thing about them, however, is that they ripen very early, like right now, when there is an abundance of cherries, peaches, nectarines and other seasonal delights. August is not apple time. Apples, to me, are a fall thing.

This tree has grown in my garden for nearly 20 years. If I had selected it myself (which I probably would not have done, not being interested in growing apples), I would have picked a different variety, one that ripens later and keeps longer. But the tree was a gift, from my Mom no less, so I am pretty much stuck with it. It was supposedly semi-dwarf, but has proved to be otherwise.  It is now close to 20 feet tall and about as wide. I’m not a pruning expert, but understand that a tree that is growing vigorously should be pruned lightly (something I think of as the Pruning Paradox), so at most I do summer pruning (shortening new growth by 1/4 to 1/3) in late August. I have also removed a few of the lowest limbs to make it easier to get close to the tree to pick apples. Until this year, that did not take very long.

We get a lot of wind here all year round, but from late July onward, after every windy episode, I would find numbers of apples lying on the ground around the tree. While they were small and too green to eat, I tossed them into the compost heap. Once better, riper specimens started to fall (consequently acquiring disfiguring bruises), I had one of those Something Must be Done moments familiar to gardeners. Last weekend I got out a couple of buckets and a ladder and picked all the apples I could reach.

Now I have to admit, I hate picking things. Tiny wild blueberries that grow on foot-tall bushes are the worst, but I’m not keen on picking strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or any other berries, especially those that grow on thorny bushes. You would think apples would be a snap, but there’s the business of positioning the ladder (and repositioning it multiple times as you move around the tree), and wending your way among the branches to reach the elusive apple dangling almost out of reach. Except in the case of really ripe (i.e., mushy) apples you have to use both hands to detach them, in order to avoid snapping off the fruiting spurs. A number get snapped off anyway, which is maybe a good thing — fewer apples next year?

Once picked, there’s the matter of what to do with several buckets (big ones) full of apples. This is a situation familiar to most gardeners at some point. Whether the produce in question is apples, green beans, lettuces, tomatoes or the ever-popular zucchinis, overabundance results in a number of activities on the gardener’s part: cooking massive batches of sauce or pies or zucchini loaf, or racing around the neighbourhood with bags of stuff to give away. Taking the offerings to one’s workplace is another option, something I did last week with the apples.

This brings up another issue about fruit trees on the city lot. They are almost always mentioned as a desirable feature in real estate listings, and people exult over their presence on their newly-acquired lot. “We have two apple trees and a plum tree! Oh boy!” But it’s remarkable how much fallen fruit one observes in season. I suspect that much of it ends up in the compost heap, or even worse, in the garbage, while the owners of the fruit trees trot out to the grocery store or (100 mile diet in mind) farmers’ market to buy fruit. Picking, you see, takes too long, requires ladders, and you get stuff in your hair. And there might be wasps!

I think I have the apple situation under control for now. I gave away several bags last week. Apples suitable for eating fresh are stashed in the fridge. The rest are going to be turned into applesauce tomorrow.

Trouble is, there’s another apple tree on my property — an old, neglected one right on the border with a neighbour’s lot. Most years it produces half a dozen apples at most, in the fall. This year, however, it’s full of apples, lovely red ones that look quite promising. They’ll be ripe in a month or so. This tree is more like 30 feet tall and many of the apples are right up there. Some may be reachable from the roof of the garage, others by using the 8 foot ladder.

Expect another apple-inspired rant in late September.